Vernal Pools

Vernal pools are a unique type of temporary wetland that typically dry on an annual basis. They tend to be small in size and isolated from other water bodies, thus they are easily destroyed when forest lands are developed. However, their importance in supporting unique and imperiled species is increasingly well-documented. For example, vernal pools provide breeding habitat for amphibians such as wood frogs and mole salamanders, and they are the sole habitat for fairy shrimp. Vernal pools contribute to local and regional biodiversity, provide critical habitat for amphibians and invertebrates, and serve hydrologic functions. In addition, their small size belies their importance at the landscape scale at which they act as “stepping stones” for the successful dispersal of wetland species. Restoration and construction of vernal pools has been proposed to mitigate losses, but the practice remains controversial due to the difficulty in replicating natural habitat features.


Project Title: Ecology of Constructed Vernal Pools: Improving Restoration Outcomes for Wetland Biodiversity

Summary:
In partnership with the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (www.u-s-c.org), we constructed a network of 71 pools at SUNY-ESF’s Heiberg Forest. We are monitoring structural (e.g. amphibian and invertebrate species richness) and functional (e.g. amphibian production and leaf litter decomposition) ecosystem properties to compare naturally occurring vernal pools with pools constructed according to various design criteria such as basin dimensions and cluster density. Results will be applied to making design and siting recommendations to improve the effectiveness of constructed vernal pools in providing ecosystem functions comparable to naturally occurring vernal pools.

Location: Svend O. Heiberg Memorial Forest, Tully, New York, U.S.A.

Timeline: 2010-2014

Field participants:
James Arrigoni, PhD student, SUNY-ESF and several SUNY-ESF undergraduate interns and technicians

Principal Investigators:
James P. Gibbs, Kim Schulz, John Stella, and Donald J. Leopold, SUNY-ESF

Funding:
US Department of Agriculture McIntire-Stennis Award

Contact:
James Arrigoni, PhD student
407 Illick Hall, SUNY-ESF
Syracuse NY 13210 U.S.A
jearrigo@syr.edu, 315-470-4782

 


Project Title: Influences on plant communities of created vernal pools in New York state

Summary:
Vernal pools contribute to local and regional biodiversity, provide critical habitat for amphibians and invertebrates, and serve hydrologic functions. In addition, they support wetland plant assemblages within terrestrial landscapes, and are sometimes associated with plant species of conservation concern. The Upper Susquehanna Coalition is a network of soil and water conservation districts that is actively constructing vernal pools in New York. If created vernal pool ecosystems are to mirror natural pool ecosystems, then the drivers of plant species diversity and composition must be understood and incorporated into pool designs. The objectives of this work are to 1) describe and quantify vascular plant communities in created and natural vernal pools, 2) investigate the relative influence of various environmental factors on vascular plant diversity, composition, and cover in created vernal pools, and 3) describe pool designs and construction methods that facilitate establishment of desired plant species.

Location: Southwestern New York state

Timeline: 2009-2011

Field participants:
Jaime B. Jones, Jessica Logan, The Upper Susquehanna Coalition

Principal Investigators:
Donald J. Leopold, Jaime B. Jones, SUNY-ESF

Funding:
The Edna Bailey Sussman foundation, The Wetland Foundation

Contact:
Jaime B. Jones, Master of Science student
SUNY-ESF Department of Environmental and Forest Biology
401 Illick Hall, SUNY-ESF
1 Forestry Dr., Syracuse, NY 13210
e-mail: jbjone01@syr.edu   Phone: 315-470-4823

Donald J. Leopold, Distinguished Teaching Professor and Chair
SUNY-ESF Department of Environmental and Forest Biology
333 Illick Hall,
 SUNY-ESF
1 Forestry Dr.,
Syracuse, NY 13210
e-mail: djleopold@esf.edu   Phone: 315-470-6760